The Importance of Play for Children
Archie Modequillo (The Freeman) - December 9, 2019 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines — It’s Christmastime! The ones who are most excited about the merry season are the children. Hence, the saying: “Christmas is for children.” Kids relish the time to be with other kids at Christmas gatherings – it is their great time to play!

With children, life itself is play. They are at phase of life where their energies are bursting, mentally and physically. Children are highly imaginative, and they seem restless.

The importance of play for children has long been acknowledged by child-development experts. There has been much research done on play, and many benefits have since been ascribed to it.  Play is said to be a key driver of child development, even recognized by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights as a basic right that should be afforded to all children.

According to Elaine Cox, M.D., in an article at, play allows for self-expression and communication of the point of view of a child who may not have all of the vocabulary to explain his thoughts on the things going on in the adult world around him. “It allows for engagement in society, with peers and with those in authoritative positions without seeming threatening,” Dr. Cox writes. “Play allows for a safe environment to learn and solve problems, acquire language skills and support novel behaviors to hone important life skills. Free play can help children acquire a new set of skills that allow them to make sense of the world, decrease stress and help define personal responsibility to society.”

It may be said, therefore, that at play the child is trying – albeit unintentionally – to have a glimpse into the future, a sight that’s viewed through a mesh of bright possibilities and hope. And while a child’s experience of life in play is largely imaginary, just the same such experience can very well lay the foundation of the child’s concept of life. Thus, Dr. Cox advocates that children’s imagination needs to be protected.

Children shall be allowed to go free to explore life in their imagination. As much as possible, adults shall never intervene with a child at play, unless the play involves an activity that might be risky. Otherwise the play must belong to the child and must not be directive, writes Dr. Cox.

Dr. Cox explains that “when adults do get involved in play, which can be a very powerful form of connection, there needs to be a recognition that authority gradient is erased during the activity.” It means that the child shall be made to feel that the participating adult is not an authority but just a playmate. The adult will have to learn to “suspend reality” when at play with a child.

While many adults may view child’s play as simple, it is actually comprised of many complex factors, according to Dr. Cox. Small children are often guided by fantasy and symbolic play, which can be frustrating to adults who may not recognize it as a complicated mosaic of processing the surrounding world. “Older children may have in-depth, detailed rules for which they have a total reverence for keeping intact. This can often result in the playing field becoming a minefield for well-intentioned grownups.”

Child-development use so-called “therapeutic play,” to allow kids to release their emotions. It is a way for a “child in trouble” to process what is happening to him. The child is assisted to find a space in the context of play where he can exert some power and make some choices.

In therapeutic play, the child processes events and feelings within the sphere of his present experience without the risk of adult disapproval. This can eventually lead to mastery of positive coping mechanisms and acceptance of the situation at hand. The child, therefore, is set on his way to becoming true “master of his fate.”

Dr. Cox likens the attributes that come from play to the list of qualities on a job description for top corporate executives – adaptation to change; strength finding; innovative; cooperative; fostering engagement; conflict-resolution skills and the art of negotiation; resiliency; and critical and higher-level thinking. As today’s children will be leading the world someday, Dr. Cox suggests that grownups shall slow down, stop overscheduling and insisting that the kids’ every moment is filled with structured enrichment activities.

It appears that instead of restraining children’s play, grownups should adopt the practice themselves. Government and industry leaders who are tasked with setting the direction of life at the present time should consider making time for play. A time to be kids once more is important is important for everyone else, as well.

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